Netball Northern Ireland well placed for the future: Kate Carpenter
Kate Carpenter has hailed Northern Ireland's encouraging tour to the Pacific Islands as a very valuable learning exercise ahead of a massive summer of international netball.
The experience gained on the long haul trip to one of the world's strongest netball regions should stand to Carpenter's team in the coming months.
The European Championships, which start on May 30, double up as a qualifier for next year's World Cup and will be followed by the Commonwealth Games.
The injury-ravaged girls in green were edged out of the Digicel Tri-Series trophy by the minimum margin, losing 60-59 to formidable Fiji after extra-time.
With their squad down to the bare bones, Northern Ireland rounded off the trip with a 60-48 defeat to their Fijian hosts, who are ranked seventh in the world.
National coach Carpenter was without more than half of her regular starting team for that one-off Test but the tourists coped admirably in adversity and even took the last quarter 13-12.
The unavailability of Fionnuala Toner and Caroline O'Hanlon for the tour due to exam commitments had the silver lining of affording opportunities to others.
On top of that, however, Northern Ireland were hard hit by injuries with captain Hannah Willis badly hampered by a calf problem.
She sat out the comfortable opening win against Papua New Guinea and the final fixture so was restricted to the first three quarters of the first Fiji game.
Northern Ireland suffered a severe double blow with both circle defenders Gemma Gibney and Nordia Masters unable to continue in extra-time due to injury.
"It was very challenging but injuries happen and the positive aspect is that this tour has shown our athletes can inter-change with relative ease," reflected Carpenter.
"We will be all the better for this tough tour and these experiences should help us go forward without over-reliance on particular combinations or individuals.
"The very varied, productive programme in recent months means there will hardly be a scenario they haven't experienced by the time they get to these huge events."